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For most borrowers, federal student loans don’t go away until you pay them off. But in rare cases, the government will discharge the remaining balance of your student loans.
In fact, there are seven options for student loan discharge (not counting the many student loan forgiveness programs for public service).
Whether you’re interested in bankruptcy discharge or disability discharge of federal student loans, here’s how you can qualify.
7 options for federal student loan discharge
If you meet any of these conditions, the government will cancel the remainder of your federal student loans. You’ll have to apply for student loan discharge and keep paying your loan until the right agency approves your application.
However, note that canceled loans may still count as taxable income. Even though you won’t have to pay back your student loans, you might have to pay taxes on the discharged balance.
1. Closed school discharge
Federal student loans are for students at accredited colleges and universities. But if your school closes while you’re enrolled or shortly after you withdraw, you could qualify for student loan discharge.
More specifically, you must have been enrolled during or within 120 days of the school closing. If you withdraw more than 120 days after it closes, you won’t be eligible for student loan discharge.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll have the challenge of tracking down your academic and financial records. Because the college is defunct, try contacting the state licensing agency for your school.
Keep in touch with your loan servicer throughout the application process. If the agency approves your application, it will cancel 100 percent of your Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), or Perkins Loans. It’s worth noting, however, that the Perkins Loan Program expired on Sept. 30.
2. Discharge in bankruptcy
Unlike other types of debt, the courts rarely discharge student loans through bankruptcy. But in extreme cases of “undue hardship,” declaring bankruptcy will wipe out some or all of your student debt. There’s no hard and fast rule for what constitutes undue hardship, but there are a few general guidelines:
- You’ve made good faith efforts to pay back the loan.
- If you had to pay back the loan, you couldn’t sustain a minimal standard of living.
- Your financial hardship is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy discharge, you must decide whether your situation falls under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 filers have virtually no income to pay back any of their debts; Chapter 13 filers might be able to repay at least part of their debt if their loans were restructured to make them more manageable.
Since student debt is not typically included under bankruptcy filing, you may need to enlist a student loan lawyer. This legal process can be long and expensive, so you must consider whether filing for bankruptcy discharge is worth the battle. Consider all your options, including income-based repayment, before choosing student loan discharge through bankruptcy.
3. Discharge for total and permanent disability
If you’re facing a long-term disability that leaves you unable to work, you may qualify for Total and Permanent Disability Discharge (TPD). There are three ways you can qualify for TPD:
- You’re a veteran with a service-related disability who can no longer work. You must submit documents from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- You receive Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits. You must submit supporting documentation and have a disability review scheduled within the next five to seven years.
- Your physician determines that you have a total and permanent disability that has lasted for at least 60 months and will last for at least another 60.
Whatever documentation you provide, it must show you’re unable to engage in gainful employment. As a result, you can’t pay back your student loans.
To apply for disability discharge, contact the loan servicer Nelnet. Nelnet will provide you with the information you need for your application and it will tell your loan servicers to pause collection for 120 days while it makes a determination on your case.
4. Discharge for false certification or unauthorized payment
This student loan discharge option applies primarily to Direct Loan or FFEL Program loans. It’s offered to victims of identity theft or false certification. There are a few different ways to qualify:
- Your school falsely certified you as eligible to receive loans even though you didn’t meet the requirements.
- Your school signed your name on an application or promissory note without you knowing about it.
- Someone took out a loan in your name (identity theft).
- You trained for an occupation at school that you can’t engage in due to a physical or mental condition, your age, a criminal record, or another qualifying reason.
If something suspicious happened with your student loans, you could qualify for this discharge option. Contact your loan servicer for more on how to prove false certification, unauthorized payment, or identity theft.
5. Student loan discharge for unpaid refund
Like the false certification discharge, unpaid refund discharge applies to Direct Loans and FFEL Program loans. It would come into play if your school didn’t pay a refund it owed to the U.S. Department of Education or a lender. In this case, the government will give you a partial discharge in the amount your school didn’t pay.
Qualifying for this refund may require a bit of detective work on your part. Contact your school to learn about its refund policies for federal aid, and ask your loan servicer for additional information.
6. Borrower defense discharge
Another way to qualify for student loan discharge is if your college violated state laws. Some schools, such as the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, have used illegal or deceptive tactics to convince students to take out loans and attend.
If you can prove a school defrauded you, you won’t have to pay back your student loans. You must prove the misleading conduct directly related to your loans or education. Documents like transcripts, enrollment agreements, emails with school officials, promotional materials, and course catalogs may all be useful in supporting your claim.
Unless you request otherwise, the government will put your loans into forbearance or stop collections when you apply for a borrower defense discharge. If it approves your application, you won’t have to pay the loans back. But if it denies it, you’ll have to pay back the loans and the interest they accrued while in forbearance.
7. Student loan discharge due to death
Federal student loans are also discharged if the borrower dies. In this event, a family member or representative must send a death certificate or other documentation to the loan servicer. All federal student loans are discharged. Parent PLUS loans are also canceled if the borrower or the student passes away.
Taxes on discharged student loans
Student loan discharge could save you thousands of dollars in debt and interest, but it doesn’t always reduce your student loan bill to zero.
When the government discharges your loans, the canceled balance might be treated as taxable income, as with Total and Permanent Disability Discharge. You might have to pay a certain percentage of your remaining balance in taxes.
This tax bill may be significantly less than what you’d pay in student loan debt. So prepare yourself for one last expense before you can say goodbye once and for all to your federal student loans.
Other student loan forgiveness and assistance options
While there are a number of options for student loan discharge, it’s still relatively rare for most borrowers. More common are student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs.
The government offers forgiveness programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. In exchange for several years of service, you could get the remainder of your loan balance forgiven.
States and universities also offer loan repayment assistance programs, which are typically based on occupation. They often benefit people who work in critical shortage or high-needs areas. Browse student loan repayment assistance programs by state or occupation to see if any apply to you.
Finally, you could also qualify for income-driven repayment plans if you’re struggling to keep up with student loan payments. These income-based plans extend your repayment plans and lower your monthly payments.
Adding years to your plan means you’ll pay more in interest in the long run. But it could be the solution you need to avoid defaulting on your student loans.
Keep paying your loans until you’re approved
Remember that any application for student loan discharge or cancellation will take some time. You’ll need to track down and provide documentation to support your claim.
You’ll also have to wait for the associated agency to review your application and approve it. In the meantime, keep paying your student loans. If you pause payments and the government denies your application, you’ll have to deal with the fallout of ballooning interest.
Although these discharge programs are useful for some, there’s no guarantee you’ll qualify. Look into all avenues for managing your student loans. That way, you can take control of your debt and find the solution that works for you.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2018!
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
Savings example: average savings calculated based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were disclosed. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
Application detail: 5 minutes indicates typical time it takes to complete application with applicant information readily available. It does not include time taken to provide underwriting decision or funding of the loan.
Instant rates mean a delivery of personalized rates for those individuals who provide sufficient information to return a rate. For instant rates a soft credit pull will be conducted, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
Total savings calculated by aggregating individual average savings across total borrower population from 9/2013 to 12/2017. Individual average savings calculation based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were provided. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.47% – 6.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit SoFi|
|2.47% – 5.87%1||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit Earnest|
|2.47% – 8.03%4||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit Lendkey|
|2.95% – 6.37%2||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit Laurel Road|
|2.48% – 6.25%5||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit CommonBond|
|2.72% – 8.32%6||Undergrad & Graduate||Visit Citizens|